Post World War Two and Korea
The 101st remained in Germany serving occupation duty until November, 1945 when they were deactivated in France and shipped home. Between 1945 and 1956, the 101st was activated and deactivated three times as a training unit at Camp Breckinridge, KY and Fort Jackson, SC. They were responsible for training the 11th Airborne Division which served with honor in Korea. In March, 1956, the 101st transferred to Fort Campbell, KY where they remained in active service but at reduced manpower levels. In the early '60s, the Army predicted a larger involvement in Southeast Asia and began building up the 101st in addition to several other units. In July of 1965, the 101st was ordered into combat.
A New War
The 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne landed at Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam on July 29, 1965. The 1st Brigade was the third unit to be shipped to the new war zone and was comprised of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 327th Infantry and the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry. After a brief period where the Soldiers acclimated themselves and received all their equipment, the 1st Brigade wentwane into action. The Brigade was ordered into the Song Con Valley, about 20 miles northeast of the town of An Khe. During one mission, the 1st BN, 327th Inf. encountered heavy enemy fire at their landing zone. Three company commanders were killed and the contact was so close, air support and artillery could not be called in. As the 1st BN pulled back, they were finally able to call in strikes on the enemy force. That night, 100 sorties and 11,000 rounds of artillery hit the enemy. The next morning, the 1st BN was pulled out. They later discovered that they had landed in the middle of a heavily entrenched enemy base.
For the rest of 1965, the 1st Brigade continued to mount patrols and interdicted the enemy supplies lines. At the beginning of 1966, the enemy greatly reduced his operations. In May, the enemy began massing in the Pleiku and Kontum provinces. The 1st Brigade was moved from An Khe to Dak To, a Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) base camp in the northern area of S. Vietnam. Here as S. Vietnamese force was surrounded by the 24th North Vietnamese Regiment. The 1st Brigade was ordered in to reinforce the S. Vietnamese position.
After evacuating the S. Vietnamese forces, the 2nd BN, 502nd Inf. established their lines inside the abandoned camp and sent C Company forward in an exposed defensive position. On the night of June 6, the 24th NVA Regiment attacked C Company in a brutal assault. In a desperate attempt to stop the enemy advance, the commander of C Company called in air strikes on top of his own position, killing NVA and Americans alike. It was a hard decision to make, but it worked. The 24th NVA pulled back long enough for A Company 1/327 to be brought in by helicopter to reinforce the C Company positions.
With the arrival of A 1/327, the 24th NVA began to retreat. The soldiers of 1st Brigade pursued the enemy and several large scale air attacks were called in. Hundreds of enemy soldiers were killed but the 24th NVA managed to escape into Laos.
For an account of the battle of Dak To, read AFTERGLOW written by Peter S. Griffin and Veteran of A 2/502 who was there.
In October and November, 1966, the 4th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions were heavily engaged with enemy forces in the Kontum province. When it became clear that the enemy was attempting to withdraw into Laos like the 24th NVA, the 1st Brigade was airlifted to try and block them. After a massive helicopter airlift, the 101st landed just as the enemy was crossing into Laos and safety. The 1st Brigade was ordered into reserve at Phu Yen.
In early 1967, the 1st Brigade acted as a rapid reaction force, reinforcing American and South Vietnamese forces when necessary and responding to enemy attacks. The 1st Brigade was become experts in rapid helicopter assaults. In April of 1967, the 1st Brigade was attacked to Task Force OREGON and placed under operational control of the III Marine Amphibious Force and moved to Chu Lai.
At Chu Lai, the 1st Brigade assisted in a large-scale pacification effort in the Quang Tri province. Later, the 1st Brigade was called in to assist a Marine battalion finish off an enemy attack around Khe Sahn, which would be the scene of a long,. bloody siege in 1968. The 1st Brigade conducted long patrols designed to push the enemy from the villages in Quang Tri.
In the fall of 1967, Task Force Oregon was reorganized into the 23rd Infantry Division. Better known as the America1 Division. The 1st Brigade was detached to await the arrival of the 2nd and 3rd Brigades of the 101st Airborne Division, which arrived in December 1967.
The Tet Offensive
On January 31, 1968, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. Tet, the traditional Vietnamese New Year Celebration, was supposed to be a peaceful time. The enemy attacks caught the Americans by surprise. The 101st Airborne, along with the 1st Cavalry Division and the 5th Marine Regiment, began to fight for control of the Hue City. Hue was considered vital to the Communist effort because of its history of Buddhist activism and Communist sympathy. The North Vietnamese felt that Hue would be their first political foothold into South Vietnam and committed Regular forces to its capture.
When Tet began, Hue was defended by South Vietnamese Army units who were quickly driven from the city. The 101st and the 1st Cavalry were sent in to recapture the city. The battle for Hue raged for three weeks and was the only extended urban combat of the war. Later, the 5th Marine Regiment would be called in to reinforce the 101st and 1st Cavalry.
Fighting in Hue was intense and advances were measured by houses. Each building seemed to hold enemy soldiers. In some cases, the soldiers of the 101st fought hand to hand. Finally, after much destruction to the city, Hue was liberated from the North Vietnamese. During the Tet Offensive, over 33,000 enemy soldiers were killed and many thousands more captured. Tet was a major American victory despite the appearance of defeat back home in the political arena.
It is interesting to note, that one platoon from 2nd Brigade was airlifted into Saigon and fought a pitched battle on the roof of the American Embassy after it had been infiltrated by enemy forces.
Counter Attack and Vietnamization
Following Tet, the American forces began launching hundreds of small unit counter attacks designed to local and destroy any remaining infiltrated enemy units operating in South Vietnam. In March and April, the 101st attacked enemy supply bases in the A Shau valley during Operation SOMERSET PLAIN. During this operation, several hundred tons of enemy supplies were captured. The 101st was next ordered into the coastal lowlands in the Thua Thlen province in Operation NEVADA EAGLE which began May 1968. For 288 days, the 101st conducted sweeping patrols of the area and engaged the enemy almost daily. After it was over, the province was cleared of enemy forces and the 101st had captured enough rice, weapons and equipment for 10 enemy battalions.
Following NEVADA EAGLE, the 101st returned to the A Shau valley and began a series of operations to clear the valley of enemy forces. During one operation, the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry assaulted Dong Ap Bia Mountain, aka Hill 937 where the enemy had established a well fortified base camp. For 10 days, 3/187 launched attack after attack on the enemy position but could only advance yards at a time. The enemy had established several lines of defense. Fighting on Hill 937 was some of the most brutal of the war and was often hand-to-hand. 2 more Battalions of the 101st were called in to take Hill 937. In the end, Hill 937, now called "Hamburger Hill", was captured. The battle was very controversial because it had no tactical or strategic importance and the Army later abondoned it. Defending the operation, the commander of the 101st acknowledged that the hill's only significance was that the enemy occupied it. "My mission, was to destroy enemy forces and installations. We found the enemy on Hill 937, and that is where we fought them," he later said.
The A Shau valley was finally cleared and armored forces were brought in to reopen abandoned air strips. After these operations, the 101st went through a series of reorganizations. Their name was changed to the 101st Air Cavalry Division and later the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). With the change in names came a change in mission. The 101st was ordered back into Thua Thien to participate in Civil operation designed to bolster the South Vietnamese government forces.
The 101st established a series of fire and patrol bases and conducted several operations that prevented the enemy from re-entering Thua Thien. In addition, the 101st provided valuable technical training to the South Vietnamese forces and supported several S. Vietnamese operations into Laos to cut off enemy supply and infiltration lines. All of these operations were designed to allow the S. Vietnamese Army to operate on their own and turn over the fight to them. This was called "Vietnamization."
In late 1971, and early 1972 the 101st Airborne Division began returning home to Fort Campbell. It was the last Army Division to leave South Vietnam. The 101st Airborne spent almost 7 years in combat in South Vietnam. During that time, the Division became one of the most feared units of the American Army. During Vietnam, Army forces were ordered to create black and green subdued shoulder insignia that were designed to blend in with the green uniform. The 101st is the only unit to retain their colored emblem. The North Vietnamese called the 101st the "Chicken Men" because of their insignia. (The Vietnamese had never seen an eagle before) Many enemy commanders warned their men to avoid the Chicken Men at all costs because any engagement with them, they were sure to lose.
During Vietnam, 17 Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. They are:
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